My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Welcome back to the real world

Several people have asked my if there is as much wildlife around my new apartment complex where I live compared to where I used to live. In some respects, there is more wildlife in the area where I live now, but my photo output will probably decline drastically. There are several reasons for this, which I will explain as I go.

At the old apartment complex where I lived, they carved out opennings in a wooded area to build the buildings, leaving narrow strips of woods which radiated out from the center of the complex much like spokes of a wheel. It was easy to walk along the edges of those narrow strips of woods and photograph the birds there. It also limited the habitat area for the birds, concentrating them to make photography even easier.

Most people would say that the complex I live in now is a “park like” setting. I think it used to be a farmer’s field, and they planted a few trees all around the complex back when it was built, but there are no heavily wooded area in the complex, meaning less habitat for critters of any kind.

Another difference between the last apartment complex and the one where I live now is the rain water retention ponds. At the last complex, the ponds were larger and were located off to the edges of the complex, somewhat removed from the buildings. At the complex where I live now, they incorporated the ponds into the landscaping, with more ponds, but smaller, and placed between buildings, with the lawn mowed right down to the water’s edge. It all looks very nice, but isn’t very conducive to waterfowl, other than the tame mallards and geese that hang out here.

However, this complex is just north of the M6 bike/walking trail, so instead of walking around the complex, I walk the trail instead, and a spur of the trail takes me to a small county park called Creekside Park, and yes, there is a small creek flowing through the park.

The first few days I so very few critters, but I saw a lot of signs that told me wildlife abounds in the area, such as the tracks of deer, and many old bird nests in the trees that I can see since the leaves are off the trees this time of year.

The land to the south of the trail is partially wooded, partially open fields that are beginning to be taken over by bushes and small trees, and partially used for farming.

(On a side note, the people who farm the land have a small farm market there where I have been able to purchase fresh produce, and they also carry items from other farmers and fruit growers in the area, including some of the best apple butter that I have ever tasted!)

Anyway, the area looks like it should be teeming with wildlife, but in the first week and a half of walking, I was seeing very little. Then one day I flushed a large flock of northern cardinals as I walked along, there were at least 25 of them in the flock, the largest I have ever seen.

A few days later, I was standing on top of a hill where I could look over the area, and I was wondering to myself, “With all this great habitat, I should be seeing more wildlife”, and then it hit me, all that great habitat was the problem. There’s far more room for the wildlife to roam here, and because of how little ground I actually cover, there could be millions of critters in the area I was looking at from the top of the hill, but I may not be able to see any of them along the path I walk.

At the old apartment complex, there were postage stamp sized areas for wildlife to take cover, feed, or travel through. Here, the wildlife has the room to spread out. Another difference is that the little areas of habitat at the old complex wouldn’t support a flock of cardinals of the size I saw a few days earlier.

And so it went over the next week or so, I began to see more wildlife, usually birds, and usually in very large flocks. But all the wildlife around here seemed to be far more skittish than the wildlife was back where I used to live, I was having trouble getting close to anything, even chickadees and fox squirrels, which normally allow a person to get quite close.

 Then, I caught this coopers hawk perched low in a tree right along the trail.

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk

Coopers hawk stretching

Coopers hawk stretching

Coopers hawk

Even as I shooting those photos, I was wondering to myself whether or not this hawk was one that I used to photograph back where I used to live. The old apartment complex is less than three miles from where I was able to shoot these photos, and three miles isn’t much ground for a hawk to cover.

So, another thought began to take shape in my feeble old mind, could it be that since I walked the same path everyday for years, that the wildlife was used to my being close to them?

I am going to use hawks again to flesh this out, because they were part of the thought process I was going through. This past summer, I was priding myself on how close I was getting to red-tailed hawks, and how often I was able to get close to them. So often that I was getting to the point where I could identify individual hawks most of the time. There was an adult pair, here’s one with a muskrat it had just captured.


Adult red-tailed hawk

Adult red-tailed hawk

Then, there was a young hawk from the adults brood from 2011.

"Teenaged" red-tailed hawk

“Teenaged” red-tailed hawk

And finally, a young hawk from the brood hatched in 2012.

Young red-tailed hawk

Young red-tailed hawk

I think with the three photos together like that, it is fairly easy to tell that these are three different hawks, from the facial markings, tails, and beaks.

The adults were the toughest to get close to, they would tolerate me when they were in the mood to, but the two younger ones hardly seemed bothered by my presence at all. In fact, the one I think was hatched in 2011 would even ham it up for the camera at times.

Red-tailed hawk being a ham

Red-tailed hawk being a ham

It’s no wonder the two younger hawks were much easier for me to approach, both of them grew up with me chasing them around the apartment complex, and I’m sure that they could recognize me, since I could easily recognize them.

The hawk hatched in 2011 is the one I photographed for my post R. T. Hawk Rodent Control, to give you an idea as to how at ease it was with my presence.

That got me to thinking, (no comments on that please) that since I had walked the same place everyday for several years, was all the wildlife used to my presence, and my attempts to photograph them? Looking back through all my photos from my daily walks adds a lot of weight to this theory. Many of my photos are of young critters, young birds just after they left the nest, and fawns still in spots. It’s very likely that the young wildlife I shot in the earlier years were the adults I shot in later years.

I think that there’s a lot to that theory, as I am getting closer to the critters around my new apartment, when I catch them near my normal path.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

Actually, I have several options as far as where I walk each day here at my new apartment, and I started out alternating between three of those options. But, since thinking about the critters getting used to me, I have limited myself to just one for the time being, so that the wildlife gets used to me being around at the same time each day. I think that there’s a lot to that, and it seems to be working as you can see from the photos above. I am getting closer to the critters, when they are around to get close to, but, with all the great habitat around here, there are days when they’re all off in an area too far away for me to get to them.

This is the real world, where the birds can form large flocks for the winter, and there’s food available to support the large flocks. The postage stamp sized areas of habitat at my old apartment made photography easy, too easy, now I am having to work for good photos again.

There are some other factors affecting my photography as well, like fences and private property which limit what areas I have access to. Maybe one of the biggest things is how well I know the area. I knew the old apartment complex like the back of my hand, I knew where the critters were likely to be, and how to approach those areas without being seen until I was within range of a good photo. I’m still learning that here, the hard way. The other day, I flushed a great blue heron from the creek, and got one bad photo of it flying off, this morning, I spooked a flock of turkeys without getting a usable shot of any kind.

It was so very easy at the old place, the critters were concentrated into a few spots, I knew those spots, the area was clear of brush and tall weeds to obscure the critters in my photos, but I knew how to approach those spots without being seen, and I’m not sure that even mattered, as the critters were used to my being there.

This is the real world, with the critters spread out, often beyond my reach, I’m having to work harder to get a clear shot, and the critters are still completely wild. This may sound strange, but I like the challenge, my output may be a lot lower, but I’m having a lot more fun.


16 responses

  1. A wonderful set of pictures and some interesting points to go with them.

    December 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    • Thank you!

      December 19, 2012 at 1:53 am

  2. I think you’re right that animals get used to seeing us after a while and become less skittish There was a cormorant at a heavily used local pond over the summer and he used to let me walk right out into the open and take pictures by the time fall rolled around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of a red tail hawk from that angle-it really shows off the tail.

    December 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    • Thanks, and you bring up another point, most critters don’t like to be approached from behind as it’s like a predator stalking them. Yet the hawks at the old apartment complex didn’t mind my shooting photos of them from behind as long as they could keep an eye on me, and I didn’t try to get too close.

      December 19, 2012 at 1:57 am

  3. Northern Narratives

    Your last paragraph is wonderful. Have fun 🙂

    December 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    • Thanks, I will have fun, and I hope that you will enjoy the photos that I do get.

      December 19, 2012 at 1:58 am

  4. Nice pictures, and I really like your photo of the junco!

    December 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    • Thank you, I think that’s my best of a junco so far.

      December 21, 2012 at 1:18 am

  5. Welcome back! It’s been fun to see you catching up with my blog – every day I get a couple notifications about posts you’ve “liked.” 🙂

    December 22, 2012 at 11:01 am

    • Thank you! I thoroughly enjoy your blog and will eventually catch up on all the posts that I’ve missed.

      December 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm

  6. I think you’re right in your theory- birds accept people who do the same things at the same times of day as part of their environment and know that you are not a threat so that you can get closer to them. I bet you’ll get closer to them as time goes by!

    December 31, 2012 at 11:38 am

    • Thanks, I sure hope so, I’m not having much luck right now, but I think that will change in the spring when the birds spread out to nest. In the meantime, it will give me a chance to sort last year’s photos out, and post them.

      December 31, 2012 at 1:18 pm

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  8. I know you agree Jerry, that’s what it is all about, learning & having fun with photography and nature! I swear it has eased the stress in my life and given me more patience. I can’t wait to see what you discover as you challenge yourself with your new area of nature. I think challenges perfect us more!

    January 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    • Thanks Donna! I must love challenges, because I always seem to do things the hard way.

      January 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

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